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Florida is so much more than Disney World and a massive building to checkin for your Caribbean cruise. Allow me to introduce you to some amazing scenic drives in Florida.Hint: when possible, stay off the major roads.
7 Fun Scenic Drives in Florida
The Overseas Highway is one of the world’s great scenic drives and the only road to Key West. The 113 mile (182 km) drive between Key Largo and Key West crosses 42 bridges, including Seven Mile Bridge—guess how long that bridge is.
Although the drive would take 2.5 hours without stops, allow ample time to explore the quirky shops and restaurants, natural areas, beaches, and other attractions in the Florida Keys. To assure your Florida Keys road trip will be spectacular, it is tradition to make a pit stop at Alabama Jacks and/or Mrs. Macs in Key Largo.
Even after getting my Key Lime Shake from Mrs Macs, I do not feel like I have reached the Conch Republic until I see the decorated manatee mailbox. Send me a photo of it from your next trip.McCool Travel Tip: Florida Keys beaches are not great but Sombrero Beach in Marathon is really nice.
For more Florida Keys and Key West information, please see:McCool Travel Tip: I like to drive on Card Sound Road in one direction.
On Google Maps, I requested driving directions between Manatee Bay, FL and Key West, FL. Enter Alabama Jacks instead of Manatee Bay, when going to Card Sound Road.
Lake Wales Ridge
Beginning just south of Babson Park I turned left (east) onto Murray Road and was greeted with magnificent views of rolling hills. Between Lake Lenore and Lake Moody, I drove for several miles on red clay dirt roads amid hundreds of acres of grapefruit tree groves.
Back on Murray Road, I drove east to Pfundstein Road and stumbled upon the Tiger Creek Preserve, where I learned that I was in the Lake Wales Ridge and could hike along the 1,300 mile Florida Trail. I also learned (these visitor centers love to educate) that the Lakes Wales Ridge is an ancient island or peninsula atop of Florida. When most of Florida was under water, this area was a sandy, scrubby habitat. That explains why many of the unpaved roads in this area were white sand. Fascinating that just a few miles away are red clay dirt roads.
Continue exploring the small roads (including more red clay dirt paths) in the area, like Lake Reedy Blvd, Lake Arbuckle Road, Old Frostproof Road, and Rucks Dairy Road before ending up at CR64.
Driving southwest on CR64 towards 17, I found James Brown’s Famous Flames BBQ in Avon Park. I had a huge pulled pork sandwich, which must have weighed a full pound. It may have been the best pulled pork sandwich I have ever had; the pork was so tender and delicious. Oh, and the peach cobbler was outstanding.
For more information about the Lake Wales Ridge area, please see:McCool Travel Tip: Pretty much any car will do OK on the red clay dirt roads. The white sand roads can be a little more treacherous and may require a 4 wheel drive in places.
Growing up in South Florida, the tagline jingle for one local station I constantly heard was Jimmy Buffett’s “Strolling along the avenue that’s known as A1A.”
A1A is usually the closest street to the Atlantic Ocean along the entire 329 mile east coast of Florida, from Key West to the Georgia border. Driving north on A1A the ocean is on your right, except when blocked by buildings or when the road has to go inland. A 72 mile stretch of A1A is a National Scenic Byway.
At many spots, the ocean is steps from A1A and you can just park and get your feet wet and sandy.
But there are also stretches of A1A where the trees are otherworldly.
For more Florida Keys and Key West information, please see:NOTE: The recent storm, Hurricane Matthew, damaged some of A1A in Flagler Beach.
Ocala National Forest
The Ocala National Forest is the oldest National Forest east of the Mississippi River and it is the southernmost forest in the United States. Black bears are prevalent so be smart about the food you carry.
I have shown the primary north-south route (SR 19) through Ocala National Forest but the east-west route (SR 40) is also magnificent. The Yearling Trail, north of the 19/40 intersection, traverses area settled by the Long family before 1900.
There are many other hiking trails and several off-road driving trails in the park. Silver Glen Springs is a highlight for many visitors.McCool Travel Tip: Ocala has some beautiful areas to drive around. It is surrounded by horse farms and gorgeous scenery. One popular drive is Highway 475 from downtown Ocala.
Naples to Clewiston
The easy way to get from Naples to Ft. Lauderdale is I-75. I decided, of course, to find a much more scenic and FUN route.
Driving a series of surface streets and small roads with names like Oil Well Road and County Line Road, I was able to skirt along the northern edge of the southwestern Everglades.
Traversing those small roads was a lot of fun and highly recommended. I ended up in Clewiston, where I hopped on highway 27 south to Alligator Alley (highway 84).
Near Clewiston are parks with opportunities to view Lake Okeechobee—second largest freshwater lake in the continental US.
Yes, it looks like a canal. If you click on the image to view a large version, you should see more water on the horizon. The “canal” is actually part of the lake. I spoke with an on-site engineer who told me the water level is so low that islands have appeared. The islands are submerged when the water level is normal.
Florida Galactic Trail
Did you know that you can drive through Venus and Jupiter? There is also a Saturn Elementary School in Cocoa (space city). There is a city named Neptune Beach, near Jacksonville. And of course Pluto is prominent at Disney.
While driving up the coast, I recommend A1A (see above), of course, but I-95 is marked in the interest of speed. Consider stopping at Cape Canaveral to watch where rockets are launched and in Cocoa Beach where you can find other solar system related references like I Dream of Jeannie Lane.
OK, there is more to South Florida than the ocean. Tamiami Trail, a road between Tampa and Miami, begins in downtown Miami on Brickell Key and soon turns into SW 8th Street (aka Calle Ocho); it is the heart of Little Havana and a definite must-see.
Driving west on Tamiami Trail, after about 18 miles, you will pass Krome Avenue and enter the Big Cypress National Preserve (part of the Florida Everglades). Many attractions are operated by the Miccosukee Indian tribe. Shark Valley Loop Road (and the Shark Valley Visitor Center) is part of the Everglades National Park and a great place to see gators in the later winter and spring. A little further west is a primitive road from the 1920s called Loop Road. Road conditions may be treacherous but I always see amazing wildlife (including giant gators) along it. Ochopee, a few more miles west, is known for having the world’s smallest post office. Side note, my grandparents lived near here (in the Big Cypress) for 20 years. Yes, many stories…
Bonus Scenic Drives in Florida
William Bartram Scenic and Historic highway. Gorgeous scenic road along the St. John’s River, just south of Jacksonville. I have seen bald eagles and snapping turtles while driving through thick areas of live oak with moss (great area for tree pictures).
Cross Creek. Cross Creek is the historic homesite of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, winner of the Nobel prize for literature for The Yearling. From Micanopy, drive 346 east and then 325 south. Along 346 you will see a River Styx sign which is worth a photograph. There are many lakes and preserves in the area.
30A. Highway 30A follows the Gulf of Mexico coastline for 28 miles westward from Rosemary Beach. The area continues to develop but there are some really nice stretches of powdery white sand to relax.
Cracker Trail follows the historic trail used to herd cattle across the state. Cracker refers to the crack of the whip made by the cowboys. From the east, the Cracker Trail mostly follows highway 98 to state road 66 to state road 64. When you get to Bradenton, make sure you visit Anna Maria Island beach, with the softest and whitest sand I have seen anywhere. Let me know if you agree.
Please also see:
Other Florida scenic roads sources:
Have you been on any scenic drives in Florida? Do you have a favorite?